As heavy yellow construction equipment rumbles toward the City Market, the sounds of hammers and shriek of an electric saw inside 500 Grand echo the thuds of the heavy tread. The streetcar project is underway, but Kim & Jack Nguyen are in the midst of a construction project of their own.
The married couple are planning to open Nguyen Pho + Grill in mid-August in the tan building that sits at the corner of 5th and Grand.
“We’re both from Vietnam and we wanted to bring our culture here and introduce authentic Vietnamese cuisine to Americans,” Kim Nguyen says.
The two met while they were working at the now-shuttered Station Casino 15 years ago and have worked together ever since. They sold their most recent business, a nail salon, in May of 2013, in order to pursue their dream of opening a restaurant.
“With nail salons you’re always doing the same thing and you have the risk of a repetitive injury. It’s not something you can do when you’re old,” Jack Nguyen says.
The Nguyens signed a lease on the space at 500 Grand in November of 2013, drawn in by the promise of the coming streetcar and the apartments that surround the City Market.
“I like the traffic and the location. There’s a lot of life and Vietnamese people in the neighborhood,” Jack Nguyen says.
Jack will manage the front of the house, the restaurant will seat about 100 people, and Kim will be in the open kitchen. As per its name, the restaurant will serve pho, as well as spring rolls, egg rolls, bun with rice vermicelli noodles, and grilled chicken with rice.
The plan is to launch with 25 items on the menu and then expand the offerings as they’re open longer. The recipes have been developed by Kim Nguyen – family dishes with her own twist.
“I just want to cook for people like my home recipes,” Kim says. “There will be lots of greens and veggies, but not a lot of oil or grease.”
They’ll make a bahn mi with pate, grilled pork loin, daikon, carrot, cilantro, mint and jalapeno served on a soft roll. On the weekends, they’ll offer a hot pot special, where beef is cooked tableside in vinegar then rolled in fermented rice paper with vegetables. Kim is also working on a coconut flan and a coconut and jelly dish made with coconut milk, jelly and maple syrup and served cold.
For the pho broth, Kim Nguyen will only reveal one ingredient – shank bones that need to be roasted for 10 to 15 hours to release the marrow inside.
“That’s what gives it the pho smell,” Nguyen says. “But the rest I can’t tell you.”[Pho image via Nguyen Pho & Grill]